On a recent trip to the National Archives, I was able to look at the widow and minors’ pension applications filed by my 2nd great-grandmother, her siblings, and their mother. Augusta Roth Eigenmann was only two years old when her father, Johann Adam Roth, died. This left Augusta’s mother, Eleanora Wissig Roth, a widow with three children and expecting a fourth she probably didn’t know about yet. Two years earlier they had buried their five-year-old son, Georg.
The pension file has more than 150 pages of documents. Some are standard forms required for a pension claim, some are affidavits of family and friends, and others are letters from the family directly to the pension office. The story painted in the letters is tragic:
Adam mustered out of G Company, 4th Missouri Calvary of the U.S. Army during the Civil War on 25 September 1862. For reasons not clear, Adam only served 13 months of his 36 month commitment. He had been a baker before the war and continued that work for the army, enlisting at the “first call” for volunteers.1 When he returned home he was sick with rheumatism and lung hemorrhages and wasn’t able to work consistently. He died 5 November 1867 at the age of 38.
Following his death, Eleanora “tryed [sic] to do all in her power to raise her little one[s], but as she was never accustomed to do even her own housework and her health being very poor she had to give up her business and everything [Adam] left….”1 The family struggled over the next few years. The youngest, Dorothea, who was born eight months after her father died, passed away 28 February 1871.
Due to their dire circumstances, Eleanora was “compelled to accept an offer to marry.”1 On 26 October 1871, she married Frederick Kunz. They would have at least four daughters.
Augusta described herself as a “very delicate child”2 but needed to find work at a young age. Some time around 1874, Frederick’s health “broke down” and he was unable to work enough to support his family for four years.2 Augusta, and her older sister, Lissette, were compelled to find work when they were nine and eleven years old, respectively. Augusta worked as a seamstress and embroiderer until she could “hardly see any more and [was] compelled to wear glasses all the time.”1 The 1880 census lists Augusta as a seamstress, Charles as a peddler, and Lissette as at home.3
In 1883, Augusta married Friedreich Andrew Eigenmann. Friedreich was a barrel maker. Augusta states in one of her letters that he lost four fingers on his left hand in a machinery accident, making work difficult1. Augusta worked as a nurse to support her family. She also describes undergoing multiple surgeries making work hard for her, too.
Friedreich Eigenmann (who had his own tragic end) wrote a letter to the pension office in Fraktur German. (Luckily there was a translation done by the pension office.) He says that Eleanora “became disabled in consequence of a fall on the street, caused by stepping on banana peeling, in consequence of which she has been confined to house and bed half of the time.”4 Eleanora lived another 15 years from the date of the letter.
Augusta, Lissette, their brother Charles, and Eleanora began the application process in 1888, one application for the children and one for the widow. Augusta describes becoming aware of the pension laws as an adult. The delay in knowing about the law could be attributed to German being the family’s first language.
Their application process would take 15 years. They dealt with incompetent case workers, possibly incomplete military records, primary witnesses being deceased, law changes, and perhaps a language barrier. The family had three separate case workers, the first of which never submitted paperwork to the pension office. (Augusta calls him a rascal.) Family and friends made sworn affidavits on the same topic multiple times, taking time of the individuals and costing the family money each time. Meanwhile, Charles died sometime in the early 1890s.
In 1903, both applications were denied. They couldn’t show that the illness started when Adam was in the army nor could the treating physician account for Adam’s treatment since the physician had passed away. I don’t know if this was the right decision, but the delay in applying seems to have been a major hindrance to their claim.
While the letters describe trial after trial for this family, I want to believe that they are only telling about the worst parts of their lives in an effort to gain sympathy from the pension office. Either way, the file is a treasure of information about the lives of the Roth family.
- Augusta Eigenmann, nee Roth, to Mr. Evans, Pension Commissioner, Washington, DC, Dec. 31, 1897; pension application nos. 388291 & 574730; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
- Augusta Eigenmann, nee Roth, to Mr. Tanner, Pension Commissioner, Washington, DC, Apr. 4, 1889; pension application nos. 388291 & 574730; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
- 1880 U.S. Census, St. Louis (Independent City), Missouri, population schedule, St. Louis, enumeration district 103, p. 3 (penned); digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/interactive/6742/4242101-00395/48782774? : accessed 19 Aug 2019).
- Fred. Eigenmann to Mr. Rainn, Pension Commissioner, Washington, DC, Sep. 16, 1892; pension application nos. 388291 & 574730; Civil War and Later Pension Files; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.
4 thoughts on “Application Denied”
Those pension files really are a wealth of information, connecting so many people (family, friends, neighbors, colleagues). And I would agree that they may trend toward hyperbole in describing health issues and other hardships to make a case for government support. A banana peel? Really?
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I have so many more leads for this family now. I’m excited to peruse them. And, yes, the banana peel is so crazy.
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Thanks for sharing, I too have found amazing information in pension files, although no banana peels…
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